DUS to address learning loss, more with federal COVID relief funds

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac Union Schools is using its federally-issued COVID-19 relief funds to help students combat the pandemic-induced learning loss.

Since March of 2020, three bills have been passed by Congress that have provided more than $190 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

In total, between the three bills passed by Congress, the state of Michigan has allocated roughly $9.2 million in ESSER funds to the district.

The goal of ESSER funds is to help schools foster safe learning environments for students, address pandemic-induced learning losses and support the mental health of their students.

“Dowagiac will have access to large amounts of funding,” said superintendent Jonathan Whan. “However, having access and being able to use it effectively while meeting requirements is not easy. It is not something we take lightly or rush into.”

Passed on March 27, 2020, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provided DUS with $718,000 in ESSER funding.

The district has used the entirety of its ESSER I funds to bolster the district’s response to the pandemic, which includes the hiring of additional cleaning staff and the purchase of technology for distance learning software, PPE, electrostatic sprayers disinfect school buildings, plexiglass dividers for cafeterias and elementary classrooms, interactive monitor systems for K-8 classrooms in the district and the purchase of hotspots for families without access to WiFi.

On Dec. 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, which provided Dowagiac $2.6 million in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER II fund. The district does not have full access to the funds at this time. To receive ESSER II funds, school districts have to amend their previously approved ESSER formula grant application and submit a new budget.

“We are working on this grant and will be using the funds this year and future years,” Whan said.

The third round of ESSER funding, via the American Rescue Plan Act, will provide the district with $5.9 million when the funding becomes available. 20 percent of ESSER III funds received must go toward activities aimed at combating learning loss, which include: improving student attendance and engagement, providing summer and after-school learning and improvement opportunities, connecting with families to inform them of opportunities and addressing the needs of low-income students, children and youth in foster care, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, English learners and migrant students.

ESSER II funding must be used by September 2023 and ESSER III funding by September 2024. Unused funds will not be incorporated into the district’s fund balance.

Whan said the district is busy working on options to support the district with its ESSER II and III funds.

“It’s important that folks understand that these funds have limitations,” Whan said. “You have access to them, but at the end of the timeframe, it goes away. The requirements and limitations to funding continue to change and as things change we continue to build plans for funds.”

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